Culture & Society Hungary News

Hungary has highest proportion of Jewish ancestry outside of Israel, says DNA study

Budapest, Hungary – A new study conducted by online genealogy platform MyHeritage in conjunction with the Institute for Jewish Policy Research has revealed that the country with the highest proportion of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity after Israel is Hungary, and not the United States as was previously believed. 

Said to be the first of its kind in Jewish demography research, the study analyzed a huge dataset of anonymized DNA tests taken by 1.8 million MyHeritage customers worldwide, focusing on Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity.

130,000 out of a national population of 9.7 million

It revealed that 4.2% of the 4,981 people living in Hungary who took the DNA test were found to have at least 50% or more Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity, which is a significantly higher percentage than the 2.3% observed in DNA test-takers living in the USA. The study also shows that at least 7.6% of the people tested in Hungary were found to have at least 25% or more Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity while 12.5% of the people have 10% or more.

If the numbers are indeed representative of the country as a whole, that would equal 407,400 with at least one parent who is fully Ashkenazi Jewish, and 737,200 with at least one fully Ashkenazi grandparent, out of a national population of 9.7 million.

Taking into account the fact that commercial genetic testing is an activity where the most educated and well-to-do classes of a society will be over-represented, Dr. Daniel Staetsky, Director of the European Jewish Demography Unit at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who conceived the study, revised the number of people with 50% or more Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity in Hungary to 130,000.

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MyHeritage DNA results are obtained from home test kits, allowing users to use cheek swabs to collect samples.

Higher than some recent estimates

This is still higher than some recent estimates which evaluate Hungary’s Jewish population between 10,965 (official statistics) and 47,500. Larger estimates of the population with Jewish ancestry in Hungary, produced by Professor Andras Kovacs, give a range of 73,000 to 138,000 people with at least one Jewish parent. This would mean that the estimate based on MyHeritage data “aligns well with the high end of some demographic estimates, lending credibility to both the traditional demographic methods and to the novel estimates based on genetic testing”.

The latest study suggests that there is a significant number of people in Hungary who have a Jewish heritage background that they “do not acknowledge, are not aware of, or that their ancestors intentionally repressed”. My Heritage specifies that “the study did not set out to determine how many people in Hungary or other countries identify themselves as Jews, but only the number who have Jewish ancestors as determined by genetic testing”.

“I was surprised to actually get 26% Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity”, stated 41-year-old MyHeritage User Gyula Nemeth. “Antisemitism is becoming very common these days. I hope that research like this might change the attitude of people who are prejudiced.”

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The Hungarian Jewish community is the largest in Central Europe.

The largest Jewish community in Central Europe

The Hungarian Jewish community is the largest in Central Europe. Most Hungarian Jews live in Budapest, which has some 20 working synagogues and a plethora of other Jewish institutions, both religious and cultural. There are also a number of smaller Jewish communities in provincial cities, including Debrecen, Miskolc and Szeged, with an active religious and cultural life. Budapest recently hosted the European Maccabi Games, the largest Jewish sports event in Europe.

According to the World Jewish Congress, despite occasional anti-Semitic incidents and a neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, Hungarian Jews have every facility to express their Jewish heritage and religious life.

“I was surprised to actually get 26% Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity”, stated 41-year-old MyHeritage User Gyula Nemeth. “Antisemitism is becoming very common these days. I hope that research like this might change the attitude of people who are prejudiced.”

Viktor Orban‘s government has indeed long been accused of creating an antisemitic climate, exemplified by his attacks against and portrayal of Hungarian-American financier George Soros as the arch-enemy trying to corrupt the country with immigrants and pernicious liberal values. “Anti-Semitism have by now become commonplace in pro-government media when attacking civil society and dissident organizations,” claim anti-government activists.

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